I attended a wedding today. I met the bride when I was regular at a Ruby Tuesday restaurant where she worked as a server, and kept in touch with her after we had both moved on because we had friends and a neighborhood in common. I didn't know the groom very well but we've gotten along every time we've met; we're both foodies.
I had misgivings about going to the wedding. The first was that although the bride has been a good and kind friend to me, I was hardly going to know anyone else who was invited. The second was that the couple are both Catholic and I'm far from Christian. The third was that I'm awful in big events like that.
I decided to go in spite of these misgivings because of my personal philosophy about why weddings are important. I believe that the secular function of the modern wedding ritual, with the showers and the send-offs and the dressing up and the ceremonies and the reception and the gifts and the photographs, they're all about something specific. I believe that they're about a community coming together around a couple and celebrating what everyone involved already recognizes as the permanency of a relationship.
It's not just about saying "I'm happy for you." It's not just about saying "I hope this all works out for you." It's about everyone showing up and being genuinely happy and genuinely hopeful because all that recognition and all that ritual can help to cement the foundation of the relationship.
If you can't be happy or you can't be hopeful, you shouldn't participate. If you don't think the relationship should last, you shouldn't participate. A wedding is a solemn ritual and it deserves the wholehearted sincerity of everyone involved.
I got there exactly early enough. I was one of the first people let into the chapel, and the usher's left/right directions left me confused enough to that I ended up watching the whole ceremony from the groom's side of the aisle. When I finally realized this, I spent longer than was reasonable trying to think of a way to scuttle out of the room in shame. I'm almost, almost 100% sure that I'm the only one who cared at all. It's going to bother me for a good while anyway.
This was my first Catholic wedding ceremony, and among the first participation I've had in any manner of Catholic observance. I bowed my head during the prayers, I shook hands and wished peace to the parties around me when asked to do so. I did not sing, I did not pray or pretend to pray, I did not participate in the call and response elements of the service. I listened intently to the officiant, and to the vows. I applauded for my friends, I hugged them and thanked them warmly for inviting me to be involved--and I made sure that the bride understood my thinking about all this before she ever had a chance to invite me. They got married in the sight of a God they recognize. If they had asked me to stay home because I don't share their faith, I wouldn't have been offended. I came anyway, to express my faith in their love for each other.
I dressed up, and not in raw denim, and I went to the party afterward.
This was only my fourth or fifth wedding reception. I only knew a handful of people who weren't part of the wedding party, and the people who are part of the wedding party will have little time for you during either the ceremony or the reception. This is fine. Bearing silent witness still matters.
It was really important to me to go. I've known these people for six or seven years. I've seen what their relationship looked like when it wasn't working. I've seen what it looks like now that it is. I'm absolutely convinced that being together has made them better people, and the bride has become a very good person indeed. She was one of the kindest ears I found during one of the hardest times of my life.
I'm really glad I went. My favorite part was just before I left: the newlyweds had their first dance, and the groom spent the whole dance singing a song directly to her while the whole audience looked on. He doesn't sing for a living, the wireless mic had such serious issues he had to borrow a wired mic from the band leader, but he pulled it off completely. I left soon after, because what was going to top that? On my way home, I alternated between two thoughts at length:
- See, this is why I came to a wedding where I barely knew the groom. Because I got to see him make somebody so good so happy.
- Something this brave and this romantic... wow, so of course I'm still single! (To elaborate for you, the reader, lacking my personal context: My first relationship was with someone I met online, in the era before ubiquitous digital photography. We were together for three years, and even though it ended badly I still don't really understand how I ever came to be that lucky. We talked long-distance every day for hours on end for almost a year at ruinous expense. At the end of it, she moved here to be with me. She knew what I looked like. I didn't know what she looked like. The first time we met in person was at the door of her hotel room on her first night in my city. I knocked, she passed out a blindfold, I put it on before she let me into the room. All as planned; this is how I came to be blindfolded for my first kiss, aged 19. I thought that was what fearless love felt like, until today. Today, I learned something new.)
Maybe I'll feel that way about someone, someday. It's okay if I don't. I feel lucky that I even got to see what it looks like. I feel happy that my friend found a husband like that.
And, here's the important part: I'm going to get to tell them so, and if there's ever a day where it's what they need, I'll be able to remind them of it. That's why I was there. Social awkwardness, religious incompatibility, half-Windsor knot and razor rash and uncomfortable shoes and tailored slacks so lightweight they don't remind me that I'm about something; I expected all of that the day I returned my RSVP, I dreaded all that discomfort for weeks before, and I'm so very truly glad I went. So grateful I got to go.
I might never get invited to another wedding. Well, decades being what they are, I'm sure I'll get invited to at least a few more. But I might not ever accept another invitation. I really hope I get the chance, though. I don't dance. I'm bad at big parties. I take things too seriously. I never have a date. I'm always going to feel surplus to requirements at those events, except in one way: I know exactly why I'm supposed to be there. My certainty times your certainty times the happy couple's certainty equals a union which is stronger than the sum of its parts.
Sometimes marriages fail. That's not simple, and it's not always something to be sad about. But a whole room full of people who all feel warmly about why a marriage should start, who all witness it happening and then clap and eat cake and dance and remember it for the rest of their lives? You can't tell me that isn't a promising way to start out an attempt at Happily Ever After.